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Why is the Manhattan skyline in this Brittany coastal photo?

The image suggests skyscrapers on the horizon and is due to an optical illusion known as ‘Fata Morgana’

“From afar, it looks like Manhattan and its pillars of skyscrapers” says photographer Zéroual Vincent Pic: Zéroual Vincent

Photos taken in Brittany during this week’s heatwave have been attracting attention as they seem to show skyscrapers on the horizon.

The pictures were taken on Sunday (July 17) – when temperatures were around 40C in the region – by professional photographer Vincent Zéroual, who lives in Cléder, a town in the north of the region.

This heatwave has contributed to several fires in central Brittany and Gironde.

Read more: People in Ile-de-France can smell smoke of Gironde fires 500kms away

Read more: France wildfires rage on: 20,000 hectares burnt, one arrest made
Mr Zéroual’s photos show a ‘Fata Morgana’, an optical illusion combining several mirages. The phenomenon is well-known in southern Brittany and along islands and beaches in Loire-Atlantique, but is rarer in northern Brittany.

“From afar, it looks like Manhattan and its pillars of skyscrapers,” said Mr Zéroual, adding that he had never seen the phenomenon since he relocated to Brittany in 1992. 

“I could not believe my eyes and questioned whether what I was seeing was true. When the person alongside me told me he was seeing the same thing, I understood I was not going mad,” said Mr Zéroual.
Mr Zéroual mistakenly attributed the optical illusion to a simple mirage in a Facebook post before several users told him about the Fata Morgana. 

Mr Zéroual published more pictures of the phenomenon the next day, showing the skyscraper-like shapes on the horizon.

Credit: Zéroual Vincent

French Fata Morganas are most noticeable in the Bay of Bourgneuf (Loire-Atlantique), Noirmoutier (Vendée) and along beaches in south Finistère. 

They happen when a stream of hot air above the sea and the cold air from the sea collide, bending rays of light as they pass through the air layers. 

The resulting image will show a series of inverted and erect images laid on top of each other, creating a scene which cannot necessarily be linked to the object it is drawn from.

The term Fata Morgana comes from the Italian for ‘Morgan the Fairy’, relating to the legendary King Arthur’s sister, the sorceress Morgan Le Fay. 

This is because the phenomenon was once believed to represent a fairy castle in the air or a false impression of land created by Morgan’s witchcraft to lure sailors to their deaths. 

A Fata Morgana may also be at the root of stories surrounding the ghostly Flying Dutchman ship, which was always spotted from afar, and was believed to be doomed to sail the seas forever.

Several users took to Twitter to show their own Fata Morganas following Mr Zéroual’s pictures with some resembling boats, while others suggested low hills.  

Mr Zéroual is now covering the fires on the Monts d’Arées mountains in central Brittany.

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